How Modern Art Led Me To God– Can we derive anything objective from aesthetics? What might beauty tell us about the nature of reality? Here’s an interesting exploration of these and related topics. I’d like your thoughts on this one!
Star Wars: This Is Madness– How about some Star Wars themed March Madness? I’m in! Star Wars is hosting a battle royale to crown this year’s tourney champion among Star Wars characters. Now get over there and vote against anyone not in the original trilogy!
Second Wave [feminism]– Here’s an evaluation of Second Wave feminism from an evangelical viewpoint. Check out the Junia Project for all kinds of awesome posts!
Hume on Skepticism– Some brief insights into Hume’s evaluative tools for reason and whether they can stand up to his own skepticism.
Suggested Readings on the Relationship between Science and Theology/Religion– Here’s an interesting list of some recommended books to read on this issue. My own list would have some similarities but many differences as well. Maybe I’ll make one! Would you enjoy that? Oh! And I could annotate it! Well anyway, for now check out Eric Chabot’s list!
“The Monuments Men” is a film based on a true story of a group of soldiers sent to salvage cultural artifacts from destruction by the Nazis. Here, we’ll analyze the film from a worldview perspective. There will be SPOILERS in what follows.
One question the film puts front and center is this: “Of what value is art?”
The question is put in a number of poignant ways, such as a moving scene in which Donald Jeffries is killed in an effort to protect Michelangelo’s Madonna and Child. The scene is powerful because Jeffries finds his value in his efforts to defend and preserve this beautiful art. He writes a letter to his father about the value of defense of such a work of art, which is overlaid with the imagery of him being killed by a Nazi officer.
Claire Simone works against the Nazis to try to protect and preserve the ownership of art. Her recognition of the importance of these pieces of history to those who collected them is a recognition of the power of the human mind to transcend the mundane.
The power of art to shape humanity, or even become a monument to humans–a way to transcend–is front and center throughout the film. The question that is then begged is this: if the natural world is all which exists, whence the transcendence? Where or to what might the transcendence point?
History and Life
History is important aspect of human life. Long have various cultures held notions that if one’s name were erased from historical record, it was as if one never had existed. The driving force to be remembered is a powerful one in human life, but perhaps it is also something which drives us towards art.
By collecting the art and stealing the works from their rightful owners, the Nazis were essentially attempting to rewrite history and capture the cultural past of those who owned or produced the art. There is a powerful message behind this of the need to be aware of how history is shaped by even those who are writing it.
Argument from Aesthetics?
How is it that humans recognize the value of art, or, more abstractly, of beauty? Some would allege that it is merely something we assign to things. The value is entirely a construct. In some ways that seems true, but there is something inherent in the notion that beauty–that art–is something which it is a great evil to destroy or take from someone else. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but it is also something which points beyond itself, to the transcendent.
The very possibility for recognizing that which is beautiful itself cries out for explanation. Whence the need for, dedication to, and recognition of beauty? A Christian would point beyond these towards God. Without the actual existence of the transcendent, there is little possibility for explaining the capacity for humans to reach out and grasp it.
“The Monuments Men” is a very solid flick to explore from worldview perspectives. It’s not as action-packed as most war movies, but it is more thoughtful and because of that it is in many ways more compelling. Perhaps most interestingly, it offers a view of the arts as something concrete, to be appreciated, and perhaps even transcendent.
The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.
Every Sunday, I will share a quote from something I’ve been reading. The hope is for you, dear reader, to share your thoughts on the quote and related issues and perhaps pick up some reading material along the way!
The Measure of Art
I’m a fan of Edgar Allan Poe, but I can fairly say I never understood him until I read Evermore: Edgar Allan Poe and the Mystery of the Universe by Harry Lee Poe (yes, a cousin of Edgar’s). I was rereading this delightful book when I came upon an interesting quote about Edgar Allan Poe’s view of what makes art worthwhile:
[Poe] insisted on measuring a work of art, not by its size or by the effort it took to produce it, but “by the object it fulfills, by the impression it makes”… [not] “by the time it took to fulfill the object, or by the extent of ‘sustained effort’ which becomes necessary to produce the impression.” Poe believed that every story succeeded as a story to the extent that it created an effect upon the reader. (62)
For Poe, the measure of art was the impression it left upon the viewer (or reader, or hearer, or…). What do you think of this notion? What do you think qualifies as “the measure of art”? Have you read Poe? If so, how does his work “measure” for you?
Be sure to check out the review of this book.
Evermore: Edgar Allan Poe and the Mystery of the Universe by Harry Lee Poe– I reviewed this fascinating book at this link. Check it out to see what other insights you can get from this work.
Sunday Quote– If you want to read more Sunday Quotes and join the discussion, check them out! (Scroll down for more)
Harry Lee Poe, Evermore: Edgar Allan Poe and the Mystery of the Universe (Waco, TX: Baylor, 2012).
Thinking About ‘Future Things,’ Part 1– One area I will admit I have very little knowledge about in relation to Christian theology is eschatology. This series by Reasons to Believe provides an introductions to many aspects of eschatology and provides a fairly balanced view. I enjoyed it greatly and came away feeling much better informed. I recommend checking out the whole series.
Wukong’s Dilemma– An interesting look at Buddhist philosophy and the dilemma of a works-based religious system. I found this a very fascinating post.
Lance Armstrong, Thor and Ideal Heroism– A comparison of ‘real life heroes’ to the idealized heroes we construct. I found this post very insightful. I highly recommend it.
Christianity and High Beauty (With Pictures!)– A simply excellent post on the relation of the Christian worldview to beauty. There is much to be said about the importance of aesthetics in reality. This post hints at many of these themes.
Tim Keller, Women, and Ignoring your own rules– I found this post really excellent. It evaluates some of the Gospel Coalition’s stance on women in light of the rules that one of its adherents, Tim Keller, holds regarding discussion with other people. The problem is that they make many claims about egalitarians which simply are not true.
Critiquing Mormon Theology: An Innovative Approach– A presuppositional apologist examines various doctrines of Mormonism and offers a critique. It’s an interesting look into how the presuppositional approach can be integrated into a broad apologetic.
I have read on more than one occasion an atheist making the argument that goes something like this: if humans are the most important creation, why did God create such a vast universe? The argument is that God really wasted a lot of space if the universe was created for us. Another way I’ve seen this argument is as follows: the universe is full of galaxies that are even beyond our capacity to ever observe. Why, if God created the universe for us, is there so much here that is worthless to us? Furthermore, why is so much of the universe hostile to human life? Humans can’t live in overwhelming majority of the universe. Why is it so hostile if it were created for us?
A different discussion with an atheist was touched off when they asserted that the Bible states humans are the most important creation, so why create so much of the universe outside of our power to observe?
I’m going to offer an explanation which may come as something of a surprise: there is nothing in the Bible which makes it explicit that humans are the most important creation. I would go so far as to say that anyone who claims that is reading an unjustified anthropocentric worldview onto the text.
Perhaps the most commonly cited explanation for why we should think humans are the center of creation is the Genesis creation account, and specifically Genesis 1:27-28:
So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” (NIV)
But again, where in this text does it suggest that humans are the most important creation? It does show that we were made in God’s image, but it does not say that because of that, we are more important than anything else in creation. Too often people read into texts what they think it says, as opposed to reading what the text actually says. Again, I simply ask this: where in the text does it say that humans are the most important part of all of creation? As a friend pointed out, one could easily say the sun is the most important part of creation, because without it, we would not all be alive. But either view is equally unsupported by the Bible.
Another rationale that is used from this passage is the notion that humans are to have dominion over or rule over the earth (verse 28). But again, how does it follow from this that humans are more important? The problem is that we have a skewed view of importance. For us, very often, we think importance is equal to power. When someone has power, they are more important than someone without power. But such notions of power and hierarchy are extrabiblical ideas which we have read onto the text.
In fact, it seems that the Bible says we are not the greatest of all creation. Psalm 8:5 references humans and says that “You [God] have made them [humans] a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honor.” So yes, humans are “crowned” with glory, but they are also ” a little lower than the angels.” It seems the Bible says that we may not be the greatest things to walk the universe. [I should note that the Bible may, in fact, note that humans are the most important part of all creation, but were I to grant this, my reasoning below still holds.]
But some people remain dissatisfied by this explanation, and claim that Christians very often do claim that humans are the crown of all creation or that the universe was made for us. Here, I suggest that once again, people have been thinking very anthropocentrically. In fact, they have limited God to the point of making God incapable of even having the same range of possibilities that humans have. The assumption built into this argument is that God created for the sole purpose of humanity. But just like other persons, it is possible for God to have more than one end in taking an action. Thus, even if we grant that humans were the most important creation–in contrast to the above argument–it still does not follow that the universe is exclusively for humans. God can have different ends.
Think about it this way: when you take an action, you very often have more than one end in mind. For example, you may get in your car to go to a local shopping store so that you can go to the grocery store and also because you want to stop and look at books at the bookstore. Here, you have taken an action (gotten into the car and taken it somewhere) with more than one end in mind. Similarly, God can create with more than one end in mind. Even if humans are the greatest of all creation (which I deny), it is also possible that God also created for other reasons. For example, God may have created gratuitous galaxies because they are beautiful. I can’t help but look at the stars and have my heart stop. The beauty of creation is extraordinary. It cannot be described in words. Perhaps this was one end God had in mind, along with the creation of humans. There are a number of other reasons God could have created apart from humans, so it seems to me that the objection here is short-sighted.
Only by creating God not just in our own image, but in an image less than our own, can we come up with an objection to the existence of such a God based upon the vastness of the universe, or its hostility to life.
Beauty is a powerful reason to favor the Christian worldview. Check out this excellent post on the topic over at Well Spent Journey: Christianity and High Beauty (With Pictures!).
More Planets Than Stars – Exoplanets and Our Little Blue Ball– Naturalis Historia features a simply superb post on the possibilities of other life/planets like ours. It also briefly addresses the issue I have discussed in this post. I recommend checking it out.
From Divine Engineer to Divine Architect– Over at Faithful Thinkers, Luke Nix wrote about a similar topic. His post explores the notion of God as an architect, transcending the either/or dichotomy created by some about God’s purpose for creation.
I have reflected on what life on other planets might mean for Christianity: Theological Reflections on Life on Other Planets.
The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.
Alister McGrath is a well-known name in Christian philosophy, science, and apologetics. His book, The Open Secret is his call to Christians to develop natural theology not just as philosophically, but as a system of theology which touches on all aspects of life.
Natural theology, according to McGrath, is not just a way to argue for the existence of God. Rather, “The enterprise of natural theology… is one of discernment, of seeing nature in a certain way…” (3). He argues that natural theology in fact should not be viewed as a system to prove the existence of God. Rather, it “addresses fundamental questions about divine disclosure and human cognition and perception. In what way can human beings, reflecting on nature by means of natural processes, discern the transcendent?” (5, emphasis his). Natural theology can be seen as an entire worldview, put forth to view the world in a certain way (17).
McGrath, after outlining his vision thus, turns to the human experience of the transcendent. He focuses on three thinkers- Iris Murdoch, Roy Bhaskar, and John Dewey (41ff). He then turns to various ways humans have accessed the transcendent (59ff) and includes an evaluation of the psychology of perception (80ff).
He once more emphasizes the need to see natural theology as a type of “seeing” (115) and turns to Jesus to demonstrate the approach McGrath favors. Jesus’ parables are a model for natural theology, argues McGrath. They are “open… the interpretation is generally left indefinite and imprecise… the imagery of the parables is readily grasped [but] their meaning is often veiled…” (120-121). Similarly, nature itself is easy to grasp, but it has hidden meanings which can only be perceived by viewing the world in a certain way (126ff).
The Enlightenment approaches to natural theology have been largely unsuccessful historically and are in need of modification (140ff).
A Christian approach to natural theology should focus on “seeing” God in the natural. God has chosen to “self-disclose in history and nature” (178) and natural theology can reveal God in nature (178ff). Christian natural theology is “eschatological… The fading beauty and goodness of the world are to be interpreted in the light of the hope of their restoration and renewal” (206).
Natural theology must also break out of its boundaries. It is not just the realm of philosophical reflection, but also opens many points of contacts with the world. It is “about perceiving nature in a certain way” (221). Beauty, goodness, and truth are all aspects of reality which can be drawn out through a Christian Natural Theology (222ff). Again,
“natural theology… cannot be regarded as ‘proving’ God’s existence. Rather, it insists that the existence of a God such as that proposed by the Christian tradition makes sense of what may be observed of the world. Such an approach holds that there is an accumulation of considerations which, though not constituting logical proof (how could experience prove anything in such a way?), is at the very least consistent with the existence of a creator God (233).
The goal is not proof but a demonstration of consistency, which will “reinforce the plausibility” of Christianity (234).
Beauty and goodness draw out the reality of the Christian vision of the world. Beauty must not be neglected in natural theology (262ff). Beauty “can… call us, seeking a response” (283). Goodness underlies the resonance with natural law and the moral truths that can be seen as built in to “the fabric of the universe” (293ff).
McGrath concludes by urging readers to see natural theology as a key to open the “mysteries” and “hidden meaning” of nature’s “open secret” (314-315). Natural theology is primarily a vision–a way of viewing the world. The goal of the natural theologian, therefore, is to show how the reality of the world resonates best with a Christian worldview.
There is little to find at fault in McGrath’s powerful work. The Open Secret has enormous depth and breadth. Few areas of development are left unexplored. As one who has great interest in natural theology and who frequently discusses it, this reader must agree with McGrath that the arguments of natural theology often don’t work as proofs so much as pointers. Few are willing to embrace Christianity due only to an argument from natural theology, but the arguments themselves can be used to show how Christianity touches and explains many aspects of reality. McGrath’s vision is really an expanded “cumulative case”; one which focuses not just on many arguments, but brings the beauty of the world and its inherent goodness (while acknowledging ugliness and evils) into the folds of natural theology.
Alister McGrath’s The Open Secret provides a vision for the development and integration of natural theology into the arts, the sciences; indeed, into every aspect of life. It is a vision that will resonate with readers and drive them to see Christianity as an integrated whole. The book is, without a doubt, a must read.
Alister McGrath, The Open Secret (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2008).
The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.
Jump: Hiking the Transcendent Trail– I can’t describe how aesthetically pleasing this site is. But, apart from that, Anthony Weber outlines a basic argument from aesthetics towards the existence of God. I found this post really interesting and mind-opening. Check it out!
Was Adolf Hitler a Better Man Than Martin Luther King, Jr.?– Relativism cannot make sense of moral heroes. Arthur Khachatryan makes an excellent argument towards this end here.
Maverick Philosopher: Why Do Some Physicists Talk Nonsense about Nothing?– A discussion of Lawrence Krauss’s position on the universe from “nothing.” [Warning: There are a few curse words here.]
My recent discussion of the moral argument had many up in arms about the fact that I didn’t explicitly defend its premises. [Note that that was never the intention of the post, as its title explicates.] Glenn Peoples has an excellent post defending P1 of the moral argument: that If God did not exist, there would not be any objective moral values or duties. Check out his “The conditional premise of the moral argument.”
Ehrman’s Problem: He Misreads the Bible and Impugns God’s Fairness– Clay Jones discusses a number of difficulties with Bart Ehrman’s interpretations of the Bible. Check out the entire series. Part 2: Free Will and Natural Evil Part 3: God Could Have Made Us So We’d Always Do Right Part 4: Why Don’t We Abuse Free Will in Heaven? Part 5: God Should Intervene More to Prevent Free Will’s Evil Use He’s Confused About the Free Will Defense
Alexander Vilenkin: “All the evidence we have says that the universe had a beginning.”- Discussion of reasons to hold the universe began based on cosmology.